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Medvedev vows crackdown on racist soccer fans after Moscow rampage

Thousands of ultranationalist soccer fans rallied near the Kremlin on Saturday, prompting a wave of violence against ethnic minorities in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

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Several hundred soccer fans and friends of Sviridov last week blockaded a downtown Moscow thoroughfare and demanded that police explain why two of the three suspects had been released. This ballooned into the much larger rally on Saturday over authorities' alleged failure to address the fans' questions, and the growing belief that police corruption was blocking justice for Sviridov, says Nikolai Petrov, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow.

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"The problem is that our political system is inflexible and authorities are incapable of providing any avenues for people to redress their grievances. So they only react when those problems have grown into mass protests," he says.

"In the absence of any other options, the situation was left to snowball. In their frustration the fans took to the streets, where they became wide open to the suggestions of neo-Nazis. It seems that the ultranationalists are much more adept at communicating with soccer fans than the authorities are," Mr. Petrov adds.

Ultranationalists penetrate ranks

Galina Kozhevnikova, deputy director of the independent Sova Center in Moscow, which tracks nationalist groups, says that protesters beat up at least 40 people in the wake of the riot on Saturday. The violence continued throughout the weekend with several more attacks, and the reported murder of an immigrant from Kyrgyzstan on Sunday.

Similar outbreaks of ethnic violence apparently conducted by soccer fans took place over the weekend in St. Petersburg and the southern Russian city of Rostov.

"Nobody talks about this, but the penetration of ultranationalists into the ranks of soccer fans is a growing problem," says Ms. Kozhevnikova. "Not a single soccer match goes by without racist slogans and banners being raised. Yet there has been no effort by the police to single out the nationalist agitators and punish them. Now our officials act as though it's all a big surprise to them."

The riots are an especially acute embarassment for the Kremlin since they erupted just days after Russia was awarded the right to host the 2018 soccer World Cup, which was widely hailed as a sign that Russia is becoming accepted into the European community.

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